05 October 2015

The View and why it matters

How have the disasters in your life shaped your View – the way you understand and approach life? Many people tell me how later on, in retrospect, the disasters in their lives seem to have been almost worthwhile. How can this be? What can we learn from this?

So this week, a very personal account of transformation; the story of how my life was shattered at the age of 12, then again at 24 and how these events radically changed my own View.

This then is the second in the series related to the 3 month meditation retreat just completed, but first

                      Thought for the day

                           Whenever doubt appears in the mind, 
                           Welcome it 
                           As a means of going deeper into the truth


Be a good boy. Say your prayers. Do the right thing. Then everything will be OK.
Seemed like a reasonable formula to this particular Anglican Christian 12 year old.
Sort of Sunday School naivety… but a View never-the-less.

View gets to have a capital V in this context because it is referring to the big stuff. Our View is all about how we understand life. Our philosophy. Our values. How we View the world and our place in it, what sense we make of life, the meaning we give to life and the consequent purpose we have in life. The big picture.

So my rather simplistic life View was shattered at age 12 by the sudden death of my mother, followed rapidly by the death of my beloved dog, and then an weird experience with a school teacher.

None of these events fitted my existing View. 
Of course I knew I was no angel, far from it, but I also knew that these 3 events did not make sense in the context of how my life had been lived to date. They did not fit the formula. I could not understand why such horrible events had befallen me.

So I did become angry. I fought with other boys at school regularly until I managed to channel the large amounts of energy I had into competitive sport.

But curiously there was no disillusionment, no turning away from the spiritual path. In fact, quite the opposite. These disasters and the energy they generated fuelled a powerful introspection and prompted the beginnings of a dedicated search for a View that made sense of the events of my life.

Lots of questioning. Reading a lot. First the Western classics, then searching amongst Eastern philosophical literature. A powerful mystical experience in the last year of school. And then amputation of a leg at 24. But by the time cancer turned my life upside down yet again, the search had already broadened the View.

There was no rejection of Christianity, but certainly a moving on from that foundation. Karma, the spiritual law of cause and effect, along with the notion of reincarnation made better sense of my life events and helped me to make some sense of the huge new changes coming my way.

This broader View enabled what in retrospect was a quite remarkable calm and stability through potentially life shattering changes. It supported me too to face the confounding truth that although I ended up recovering from as difficult cancer as could be imagined, and accomplished that utilising techniques that were revolutionary for the day (the mid seventies) such as therapeutic meditation and nutrition, there was no interest from the medical mainstream in what had helped me and what I felt passionately might help others.

In fact there was open hostility in those early days to the notion that people with cancer could do things for themselves that would not only help them to feel better and have a better experience of life, but would actually improve their long-term chances of survival. Even opposition to the notion that meditation generally could alleviate stress and improve life in many of its facets. Remarkable really.

Anyway, starting cancer self help groups in 1981 and teaching meditation quickly led to the realisation that the mind was the key – if there was ever any doubt. 

Meditation emerged as the primary technique, along with positive thinking principles, healthy emotions, affirmations and guided imagery.

At the same time, psychotherapy that flowed relatively gently throughout the group process helped many people to further transform their suffering into a deep sense of wellbeing.

After starting this work in 1981 with cancer related groups and in teaching meditation to those whose health was basically sound, it soon became apparent that there was a need to learn more about the mind. Also, how to teach meditation more effectively? And how to develop a practical yet spiritually orientated form of psychotherapy?

Enter the Tibetans. As explained in last week’s post, the Tibetans have focussed the energies of their whole culture in this direction for over a thousand years.

Now curiously, Tibetans do not call themselves Buddhists. No, they call themselves nangpas. A what? Nangpa translates as “an insider”. It means that yes, a nangpa is a follower of the Buddha’s teachings, but more specifically, a nangpa is one who turns their mind inwardly with the aim of arriving at a definitive conclusion about the nature of all phenomena by recognising the natural state of their own mind.

This is a personal investigation, informed by traditional teachings that are taught, supported and guided by an authentic teacher and that are designed to provide a direct experience of an inner truth.

The Dalai Lama provided the first introduction, coming to Melbourne in 1983 and giving 3 days of teachings. A new door opened. Then Sogyal Rinpoche (author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) came in 1985 and made an instant impression. Funny, wise, profoundly knowledgeable. Very aware of the Western mind. A great teacher leading to a long connection.

As pointed out in the last post, you can study Tibetan Buddhism as a mind science, as a philosophy or it can become a spiritual path in its own right. For me it has been intensely satisfying as all three, so next week, let us delve into a deeper question : “Why follow a spiritual teacher?” Why not just work the answers out on your own???

RELATED BLOGS – The meditation retreat series
1. Why Buddhism?



The Dragon’s Blessing – Guy Allenby. If you are interested in more details around the essentialized story above, the biography goes into it in some detail.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche. The spiritual classic that has sold around 3.5 million copies, inspired and supported many people along their path.


Details of all coming programs Ruth and I will be presenting are on our website: www.iangawler.com/events, and here are the next few:

Meditation Under the Long White Cloud   24 - 30 October 2015

7 day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

                 Take time out from the busyness of everyday life; spend time with your self
           Slow down, reflect, contemplate – regain perspective, vitality, balance and clarity
      Deepen your understanding and experience of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation

Full details, CLICK HERE


CANCER and BEYOND     October  2015     Monday 12th to Friday 16th 

Finding peace in the Healing Process

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley

This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Cancer Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers themselves.

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

FULL DETAILS Click here 

MIND-BODY MEDICINE and CANCER    November  2015    Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th

Five day Residential program in the beautiful surrounds of Wanaka, New Zealand
- an easy drive from Queenstown airport and very accessible for Australians

This program is open to anyone affected by cancer. Health professionals interested to learn more of this work are also welcome to attend.

While the focus of this program is on therapeutic meditation and nutrition, the power of the mind and emotional health, ample time will be given to answering any questions you may have relating to the Gawler program - exercise, positive thinking, healing, balancing medical options, successful ways of dealing with setbacks, sustaining your good intentions and the relevance of finding meaning in life to healing and recovery.


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